Best ThinkPad laptop for a student?
June 27, 2012 6:03 PM   Subscribe

Best ThinkPad laptop for a student?

My quite old ThinkPad is on its last legs, and I'm in the market for a new one. I've loved this computer (an SL500), and would like to know which of the various current ThinkPad options would be be best for a replacement. I'm a student, so price is definitely a consideration. I primarily use my computer for internet, writing, watching movies, photo editing, and some programming/statistical analysis (typically not with huge datasets, but I'd like something that can run R or Stata well without being super slow). I'd like something fairly lightweight with a good battery life, but my priority is having a big screen so that I can do two windows side-by-side for comparing documents, etc. (my current laptop has a 15.4 in widescreen, and I wouldn't want to go dramatically smaller). Any suggestions as to the best options? I'm also willing to consider another brand, but I'd like to look at a ThinkPad first since this one has been very reliable and the warranty has been painless when I've had to use it.
posted by rainbowbrite to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I replaced my SL500 with a T510 and love it.
posted by Cosine at 6:47 PM on June 27, 2012

Best answer: With your screen size and budget constraints, I'd say a T420 customized with 1600x900 screen and an i5 processor, around $750 plus tax from That will more than double the performance of your SL500, and give you even more screen real estate. The battery life and weight aren't going to be spectacular. Buy extra RAM separately to save money; it's easy to install and insanely cheap these days (I just bought 8 GB for $41 for my X220), and it will make R and Strata fly.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:50 PM on June 27, 2012

On second thought, the T520 has a 15" screen compared to the T420's 14", so maybe that. Either way, be sure to pay for the extra resolution; the default 1366x768 will be disappointing.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:19 PM on June 27, 2012

Best answer: I came in here to say that you want an x130e, despite the small screen size. (I'm saving for one right now.) However, I think that Cosine and qxntpqbbbqxl are right -- what you really want is some kind of T-series thinkpad, a 420 or 520. Oddly, they appear to be the same price so given that you like the size of your current laptop I'd probably go with the 520.

Some other upgrades that I would consider, since we don't truly know your budget: upgrading to the 500gb 5400rpm hard drive ($10) will give you a lot more space without sacrificing noticeable performance and will save on battery a bit too. Adding bluetooth capability ($20) will provide a bit more flexibility -- it'll let you tether a smartphone, for instance. Upgrading to the 9-cell battery ($50) will give you considerably longer battery life.

You're a student, so you should shop through the student portal at where you will get a coupon code that will knock the price down a bit. A T-520 specced out with qxntpqbbbqxl's screen and processor upgrades plus the three upgrades I mentioned goes for $727 when I shop through the student portal. Note that the thing where you select your school doesn't seem to work in Firefox; I had to go in with Internet Explorer to get shopping.

Thinkpads are great. If you want a Windows machine rather than a Mac, and you care about things like durability and good keyboards, they are the only way to go. I wouldn't recommend another brand if you're used to Thinkpads, you'd likely be disappointed.
posted by Scientist at 9:31 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and note that if you stick with the stock 4gb of RAM (which might be plenty anyway) you have an empty slot so if you want to upgrade the stock RAM isn't a waste. You could get another 8gb DIMM for $45 including shipping on Newegg and just pop it in, to give you a total of 12gb. Just upgrading to 8gb through Lenovo's configurator runs $160! So qxntpqbbbqxl is right on the money with that advice also.
posted by Scientist at 9:37 PM on June 27, 2012

If you can make your data fit through cloud storage or a second hard drive in an ultrabay or whatever, get an SSD. You probably won't like the price if you buy the SSD from Lenovo, but it's pretty darn easy to remove and replace the hard drive in a Thinkpad. One screw to get the tray out and then the four screws holding the drive to the tray. And enjoy your new T series, I have a friend who has an SL500 and it's a pale shadow of what I'm used to.

I had the 9 cell battery for my T60p that took it into reasonable netbook range on the battery life, but with a much bigger screen and better performance. After the T60p was destroyed beyond economic repair, I bought a well used base T60 on eBay for $150 bucks sans battery and charger, slapped the over 5 year old battery in it, and still managed to get 4 and a half hours on a charge. Point being, the big batteries hold a lot of juice and are absolutely worth the extra price if you are likely to use it much when away from a power outlet.
posted by wierdo at 10:29 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

photo editing

Consider a tablet model like the X201T and perhaps an external screen.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:12 AM on June 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all! I ended up going with the T520 with some of the mentioned upgrades and will add the extra RAM later if I decide I need it. I'm excited for a battery that will last longer than 30 minutes! ;) Thanks especially for the tip on the special student website - I had no idea that existed!
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:21 AM on June 29, 2012

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